Lilly Workneh Looks Ahead to the Future of Black Voices in Media & the Future of "Blavity"
Culture Editor-in-chief of “Blavity,” Lilly Workneh, talks to Mediaplanet about the importance of black voices in media, and what the future holds.
You have worked in the media content industry for quite some time now. What topics are overplayed when it comes to black America? What topics are not discussed enough?
There are so many topics and issues worth covering among black America and all of them deserve the space, time and resources to be explored. From examining the systemic racism that plagues us, to exploring the diversity of the people among the diaspora, to unpacking controversial issues within our own communities, I think few, if any, topics are over-played and all should demand our attention. You can miss me on the pieces in praise of R. Kelly, though.
How do you hope to use your impact to make a difference in the stories produced on "Blavity?"
I have always been passionate about reporting on underrepresented issues. From working at black media companies like The Grio, HuffPost Black Voices and now Blavity, I have learned a lot along the way on how to unpack complicated issues around race, the importance of representation in the media and how safe spaces on the web can serve as a resource for both entertainment and education. Blavity was designed to be the voice of black millennials and, in three years, it has already seen exponential growth. My goal is to help us produce even more stories that inform and inspire, push us to the next level journalistically and help the team executive on more creative ideas when it comes to storytelling and story sharing. This is just the beginning.
Where do you see the media industry going in the future in terms of diversity and inclusion of all races but specifically African-Americans?
I think the media at large is beginning to understand the power of black voices and provide coverage on issues that cater to communities of color. But, to be clear, this is also happening at mainstream media companies that have an embarrassingly low number of employees of color and that oftentimes, through inauthentic ways, tell black stories because of an opportunity to profit from black readers. Diversity and inclusion are key, but so is trust. That’s why the existence of black-owned media companies like "Blavity" matter — we were built with black readers not only in mind, but as our top priority. And yes, diversity is still important to us as we understand blackness is not a monolith. We aim to include as many different viewpoints and experiences in both our company meetings and our overall coverage.
Who has inspired you during your career?
So many incredible people have inspired me throughout my career and I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to work alongside or interview so many of them. From fantastic journalists like my former boss Joy-Ann Reid to moguls like Oprah, these women inspire me to say, “I can,” and help give me the drive to say, “I did.” I also admire and draw inspiration from many of my fellow black journalists, creative artists and peers who are telling their own narratives through the various mediums they have mastered.
What advice would you give your younger self on a professional level? Personal level?
On a professional level, I would tell my younger self to make sure to get connected and more importantly, stay connected, with the people I admire, learn from and hope to one day work with. It’s not always what you know or who you know, but who knows you. I’d remind myself that acting with good intentions can attract great outcomes. As for the personal level, I’d tell my younger self to never doubt my intuition or my intellect. I am, and always will be, the master of my own fate.
What is next for "Blavity?" For you?
"Blavity" has a lot ahead in its future. In just three years, the company has grown from one brand into five: "Blavity," "Shadow & Act," "Travel Noire," "21 Ninety" and "AfroTech." We host two big annual conferences a year that attract thousands of people and we’re growing in reach and influence by the day. As for me, I saw a lot of change and growth in my own life the last three years, both professionally and personally. Going forward, my top goals are to continue to follow my intuition and better live my authentic truth.